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Michigan sheriff defends men accused in Gov. Whitmer kidnapping plot, drawing condemnation from state AG

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, front right, speaks next to members of the Michigan Liberty Militia during the "American Patriot Rally-Sheriffs speak out" event at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., on May 18. William Null can be seen third from the left.
Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, front right, speaks next to members of the Michigan Liberty Militia during the "American Patriot Rally-Sheriffs speak out" event at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., on May 18. William Null can be seen third from the left.Cory Morse | MLive.com/Associated Press

A sheriff in Michigan is defending some of the men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, questioning whether the men were planning a “felony arrest” in comments that drew condemnation from the state’s attorney general.

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf shared a stage with one of the men, William Null, during a May anti-lockdown rally in Grand Rapids, according to Fox 17.

Asked about his involvement with Null Thursday, Leaf appeared to downplay the seriousness of the kidnapping accusations, even suggesting the plot may have been warranted.

“Well it’s just a charge, and they say a plot to kidnap. . .are they trying to kidnap? Because a lot of people are angry with the governor and they want her arrested so, are they trying to arrest or was it a kidnap attempt?” he said.

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Leaf continued: “Because you can still, in Michigan, if it’s a felony, you can make a felony arrest . . . and it doesn’t say if you’re in elected office, that you’re exempt from that arrest. So I have to look at it from that angle, and I’m hoping that’s more of what it is."

Null and his brother, Michael, were among the seven men linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and seek a “civil war" and kidnap government officials, including Whitmer. Six others are charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor in reaction to what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power,” according to a federal complaint.

The two groups trained together and planned “various acts of violence,” according to the state police.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who announced the state’s charges against the members of the paramilitary group in a press conference on Thursday, called Leaf’s comments “dangerous." She said private citizens “cannot and should not” arrest politicians with whom they disagree.

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In addition to kidnapping, the six men facing federal charges were also accused of discussing detonating explosive devices — including under a highway bridge — to divert police from the area near Whitmer’s vacation home. One of the men bought a Taser to use in the Whitmer kidnapping, Western Michigan US attorney Andrew Birge said, calling them "violent extremists.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.